A FLANNEL SHIRT & LIBERTY: BRITISH EMIGRANT GENTLEWOMEN IN THE CANADIAN WEST 1880-1914
Edited by Susan Jackel.
Volume 10 Number 4.
Britain had more women than men in the period 1880-1914, and the imbalance (the result of wars and the departure of men to the colonies) was especially discouraging for educated girls, who saw little prospect for their future independence. Though emigrant women could not by law claim land grants in Canada, as their brothers did, many were challenged (or tempted?) by emigration societies, advertisements, or male relatives to seek adventure and employment in Canada. The spanning of thousands of miles of arable land by railways created an agricultural frontier land, where wife-hungry men and burgeoning communities cried out for capable, responsible employees. Diverse employment opportunities existed: house helpers, stenographers, farm workers, nurses, housekeeper-companions, milliners, and teachers were in short supply.
Genteel women who had learned the proprieties of the drawing room found, when transplanted to the new land from the old country, a life that could be lonely, classless, rough, and demanding. The daily routine was hours long, and drudgery for those accustomed to city comforts—but with humour and goodwill, hardy women transformed and civilized countless Canadian homesteads. While a few training colleges in the United Kingdom prepared would-be emigrants, other ladies left Britain unaware of the mysteries of bread-making or basic housework. For them, the seasonal battles with spring mud, summer insect pests, fall storms, and winter isolation were full of grievances. The fact that ladies stayed, prospered, and became part of the fabric of Canadian history proves they were as capable of raising poultry or making butter as other pioneers who had migrated to escape religious persecution, ethnic discrimination, or economic want.
Susan Jackel's A Flannel Shirt & Liberty tells us the story of courageous, gently-reared pioneers through a judicious selection of articles and comments they wrote home or published locally. One might criticize some of the sentimental or precious prose, but never the strength of character, the endurance, and enthusiasm of these gentlewomen. A number became dominant in the social, cultural, and economic life of the communities in which they settled, and this book shows that independent-minded women (even without "equal rights" and, in Victorian times, generally considered the "weaker sex") had the grit and determination to seek a life offering hardship and adventure. Miss Ella Sykes sums up the need in Canada for women of intelligence, and her prescription still holds true: "the quality that spells success in Canada is efficiency. . .and an energetic, adaptable nature."
Adele Case, Britannia S. S., Vancouver, BC.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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